Burger King Corp. announced that it will eliminate the practices of confining breeding pigs in gestation crates and egg-laying hens in battery cages from its U.S. supply chain, a move supported by The Humane Society of the United States.According to its new policy, Burger King Corp. will transition to 100 percent cage free-eggs for all U.S. locations within five years, and only purchase pork from suppliers that have documented plans to end their use of gestation crates for breeding pigs.
"For more than a decade, Burger King Corp. has demonstrated a commitment to animal welfare and, through our BK Positive Steps® corporate responsibility program, we continue to leverage our purchasing power to ensure the appropriate and proper treatment of animals by our vendors and suppliers," said Jonathan Fitzpatrick, chief brand and operations officer of Burger King Corp. "We are proud to announce these new, industry-leading commitments that support meaningful standards of humane treatment in our U.S. supply chain."
In 2007, following discussions with HSUS, Burger King Corp. became the nation's first major restaurant company to begin phasing in cage-free products. Today's announcement stems from the company's work on this issue over the past five years.
Burger King Corp. operates more than 12,500 locations worldwide.
The decision by Burger King, which uses hundreds of millions of eggs and tens of millions of pounds of pork annually, could represent a game-change in the egg and pork supply business as a huge new market has opened up for humanely raised food animals. Already 9 percent of the company's eggs and 20 percent of its pork are cage-free.
The Miami-based company steadily has been increasing its use of cage-free eggs and pork as the industry has become better able to meet demand, said Jonathan Fitzpatrick, chief brand and operations officer. He said the decision is part of the company's social responsibility policy.
There was once a time when action on social concerns like animal welfare and sustainability in the food industry was rare. Now, emerging public consciousness about animals, combined with productive collaboration between The HSUS and corporate leaders like Burger King, is beginning to change that dynamic. Animal welfare is becoming an important element in corporate social responsibility.
Conventionally raised eggs come from hens confined in battery cages that give them roughly the same footprint as an 8½ by 11 sheet of paper. Most pork comes from sows that are confined during their four-month pregnancies in narrow crates.
"For every cage-free egg or piece of bacon from a gestation-free pork system that Burger King sells, animals have been spared lifelong confinement in a cage so small they can barely even move," said Matthew Prescott, the HSUS food policy director.
Egg and pork producers have argued that easing confinement standards for animals raises production costs and makes those who adjust their practices less competitive. That prompted the egg industry's largest trade association, the United Egg Producers, to team with HSUS in seeking federal legislation this year that would double the size of the cages in which 90 percent of the nation's 280 million laying hens are confined.
Industry officials who have argued against cage-free eggs say hens are safer and eggs are less likely to be diseased in a cage system of hen housing.
"Our attitude is our producers believe in consumer choice and if that's what their consumers want to buy, they'll produce cage-free eggs for the marketplace provided the customer is willing to pay the additional cost," said Gene Gregory, president of the United Egg Producers.
Some studies have shown that raising hens cage-free adds 1-cent to the cost of each egg. It's unclear how much more it will cost to raise pork outside of gestation cages.